Since 2007, the CFDA has been discussing the “unhealthily thin model” issue with all the parties involved with the American fashion industry. The overwhelming majority agree with the message that “beauty is health,” yet there are still unofficial standards that are on the unobtainable side.
The CFDA pulled together a panel that represented many facets of this process on Tuesday evening presented by MAC & Milk, at Milk Studios in New York’s Meatpacking District to discuss how the initiative was working and to address whether the sample size needs to be resized, but it quickly evolved into a conversation about models’ ages.
Panel members included David Bonnouvrier, from DNA Models, Vogue fashion director Tonne Goodman, model Doutzen Kroes, Estee Lauder’s Aerin Lauder, designer Zac Posen and James Scully, a casting agent. Dr. David Herzog, an eating disorder specialist, was the moderator of the panel.
From a magazine editor’s perspective, the problem starts with the sample size. “The designers, casting agents and stylists all precede me before the sample is in my hands,” said Vogue’s Goodman. “The size of the sample dictates the model I can put it on. It unites us in the point of view I can present.” She suggested that the problem lies in employing models who are younger than 16.
Posen is a designer who bucks the age/size trend, and is known for using models that actually have bodies, but even that is not easy to do. “I request diversity,” Posen said. “Everyone has an ideal look – I love women, but I am also challenged by what is cool. It’s quite a fine line. We’re designing on bodies and I love bodies and try to make them look amazing.”
DNA Models’ Bonnouvrier has chosen to not represent the super-skinny girls, instead working with models that will have longevity. “When you represent very young women, you’re doomed to be a failure economically,” he said. “Once the girls cross the threshold of 17 or 18 their bodies morph into those of young women, not girls,” and they don’t fit the samples. “When Forbes ranked the top 20 models, they were all in their 20s and all had contracts for global brands – brands that would not sign teenagers – and these women would all fail the sample size test.”
Kroes, who is an DNA model and is on Forbes’ list, is not a runway regular. “I never fit the sample size. When I started modeling at 18, I was told to lose weight all the time,” she said. “My agents and I had when I called the ‘Ass meeting’ because I have one. I could choose not eat for a few weeks or go home and have a good life. I chose to have a healthy life with the body I have.” Several contracts later, she still looks longingly at runway pictures. “When I look at the Versace shows in the 1990s I see diversity, voluptuous and athletic bodies. It looked so fun.”
Casting director Scully believes the problem is with the directional stylists and designers who will not work with girls who are larger than 33-inch hips. “It’s changed in the past 10 years and I’ve been doing this since 1983. Things are seriously wrong,” he said, and age is coming into play. “I started asking the girl’s age at go-sees this week and of the 170 I saw, 109 were under 17,” girls who haven’t yet filled out and will fit the samples.
Aerin Lauder’s criteria are completely different than those for runway models. “We need healthy looking skin, healthy hair and a healthy looking model. We’re lucky we use just a face.” She added, “If our models are too young, it won’t work for us – we’ll get responses from our customers.” Once the conversation was opened to the audience, it became clear this age/size issue is something that has to be addressed industry-wide.
Nian Fish, creative director and senior vice president of KCD, who has produced thousands of shows, gave a challenge to the room. “Designers should make outfits for models and (adopt guidelines like) making sure they leave before midnight. We need to start by agreement. Will you take that stand?” Susan Posen, chairman of her son’s company, suggested the fashion industry look to the motion picture industry with its standards about workdays and guardians. “These girls are delicate,” she stressed. “When Karlie Kloss (now 17) and Sessilee Lopez (now 23) started, their dads were there watching every inch. How can we help the market change?”